Boston, MA: Great Burmese Salads at YoMa
The cherry blossom tree outside my living room window is practically bursting, which officially means it's salad season. Mind you, I've never been the girl who orders a typical lady's lunch, but a good salad is much more satisfying than spa food. And if you're lucky enough to be dining at YoMa, Allston's much-adored Burmese restaurant, make that four really good salads.
Any well executed salad contains a thoughtful mixture of contrasting elements, but I'd argue that traditional Mandalay lahpet, or pickled tea leaf salad ($8.50), is the best example of that. The leaves, which look uninvitingly damp, gray, and muddy, are actually bright and tangy and crucial to the salad's cohesion; they're the slightly adhesive matter that gently binds together clumps of shredded lettuce and cabbage, tomatoes, sesame seeds, puffed peas, fried garlic, and dark roasted peanuts.
For a long time, that was the only Burmese salad I'd ever had (or heard of), but there are 10 others on that menu, and this past weekend I tried three more. Most of them look similar, and the universal presence of peanuts and shredded cabbage made them slightly redundant to eat as a group. And yet, the defining characteristic of each one made itself well known: sweet, sour, and snappy pickled ginger threads ($8.25); ultra-plush and tender tofu that's made in-house from chickpea flour ($6.95); and a rich carb-centric salad of spicy rice and bean thread noodles that immediately seemed like a Burmese take on rice pilaf ($7.45).
By the way, these salads just happen to be meatless, but if you're a fan of Thai larb, there are a handful of meat-centered versions that revolve around familiar flavors like lime and fish sauce. Adding them to the list for next time.